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Authors: Cheryl Ann Smith

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

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BOOK: A Convenient Bride
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After a moment, and several low curses, the men moved on.

Ashwood held her thus for another minute or two before slowly releasing her. Thankfully, she’d found the viscount, or the men might have spent the evening violating her.

Relief flooded through her.

Dragging her farther into the room, he pushed her down on the bed. Leaning forward, he met her eyes. “Have you lost your senses?” he whispered, his tone harsh. “Do you understand how dangerous this place is? There are men below who would kill me to have you.”

She shuddered. The image of the men taking turns on her was too much to bear. “I did not know.”

He straightened and raked his hands through his hair. His face tightened. “You have one minute to tell me why you’re here.”

It took nearly half of her allotted time to find her voice. Even then, with him glaring at her, it was low and thin.

“I came to ask you to marry me.”

R
ichard’s expression instantly changed from angry to bemused. He’d been shocked to find her outside his door, dressed like a waif in a soiled shirt and oddly altered skirt. That was nothing compared to this statement.

“You have
what
?”

She stood and walked a few steps away. When she turned back to him, there was purpose in her eyes. “Thanks to your note to my father, and interference, I have less than a month to find a marriageable man to wed me. He has decided I need a husband to curb my mischievous ways.” She met his eyes. “As it was you who set him on this unacceptable course, I have decided that it will be you who is the solution.”

Weary from a long day of searching for Anne, it took him a moment to fully grasp her words. She wanted to marry him to satisfy her father’s command?

Certain that she was crazier than he’d thought after their first encounter, he figured somewhere along her lineage was a
Harrington who was completely mad. And that relative had passed it on to Brenna.

“Any trouble you have gotten into was of your own doing, young lady. You’ll not use me as a pawn against your father.” He walked to the door and pressed his ear to the wood. Thankfully, the corridor was silent. The men had gone. “I will keep you here with me tonight, and in the morning I’ll send you back to London on the first mail coach out.”

Richard glanced to the one chair the room possessed. He collected it, tested it for worthiness, and jammed the high back under the door handle. “That should keep them out should they return.”

When he turned, Brenna’s arms were crossed over her curvy chest and her cloak was tossed on the edge of the bed. There was a stubborn set to her jaw. He braced himself for an argument.

“You will marry me,” she said.

“I’ll not.” He reached for the tankard of cheap ale and took a deep swallow. If he’d known she’d show up, he would have asked the innkeeper for a barrel of the stuff. “You need to find yourself another victim.”

In the firelight, her hair fell about her pretty face and shoulders in a tangle of dark waves, the mass having largely escaped the binding of her braid. Her expressive green eyes peered at him, heavy with defiance, and he knew he’d best settle in for a long night.

She sighed but held her tongue, which in no way gave comfort. He suspected that Brenna was working a new argument through her mind, another way to convince him to sacrifice himself on the sword for her.

If she expected him to give in to her demands, she was in for a very, very long wait.

Damn, but she was fetching, despite her dishevelment. The split skirt followed the lines of her body almost to the point of being indecent. And there was nothing decent about his thoughts at the moment.

He could still feel the fullness of her breasts where they’d pressed against him mere moments ago.

Ignoring the surprising attraction for the chit, he sat on the bed, pulled off his boots, and removed his cravat. Giving
consideration to her virginal sensibilities, he left on his shirt and breeches.

Once comfortable, he walked over to stoke the fire and checked the chair. Satisfied he’d not have to fight other men for her tonight, he stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes.

The only sound in the room was her soft breathing as she, he suspected, plotted a way to make him miserable.

“You cannot expect us to share the bed?” she said finally. “A gentleman would take the floor.”

He opened one lid and peered at her. She was clearly put out by his lack of manners. Good, let her stew. She should have stayed home. “A lady would not show up uninvited at the door of an unmarried man, with or without a chaperone.” He closed his eye. He did not need to see her face to feel her frustration. “I have a long day ahead tomorrow and need my rest.”

Richard almost smiled at her low growl. “You are impossible,” she said. “You must marry me. If we are found together, I will be ruined.”

Knowing he’d never be allowed to sleep until the matter was settled, he sighed and sat up. “You should have considered the consequences of your actions before you hunted me down and passed through a crowded common room to find me. You may have been recognized. You Harringtons are well known.”

Defiance changed to worry. She bit her lip. “If I return to London without a husband, Father will kill me.”

At that moment, he knew she’d finally realized the seriousness of her actions. He almost felt sorry for her.

Almost.

“Though you exaggerate, I agree, Walter will not be pleased that you’ve come to me or risked your neck, again, to defy him. Perhaps I can write him a note, explaining that you have not been compromised and your innocence is intact.”

Like a feral cat caught in a cage, she hissed, “As if your note would soothe my outraged father. How would you convince him that you did not touch me? Once he discovers that we have spent the evening together, he will see us wed. You will be my husband.”

Richard knew she was right. His stomach burned, and he
pushed from the bed. “You little minx. You planned this from the start. You knew you would force this wedding the minute you decided to follow me into this inn.”

“I did no such thing.” She lifted her hands as he approached her. Good, let her believe he’d strangle her. The girl deserved that, and more. “I swear I would not force you to marry me.” She darted around the bed. “A compromise is all I ask.”

This stopped him. “And what do you have to offer that would entice me to marry you?”

“I know you are searching for your missing sister. If I help you search for her, then you will agree to marry me.”

A lock of hair slipped over her left eye. She pursed her deep pink lips and blew it aside. He went hard.

“How will you explain your absence from Walter?” He shifted to hide the evidence of his interest.

“I will tell him that I went off to Cornwall to visit my ancient aunt, Primrose, using the quiet of her country cottage to whittle down a list of potential suitors,” she said. “He will never know I spent a few days chasing off to Gretna Green with you.”

Though the plan was thin, it would keep him from damaging his friendship with Walter. He knew the hurt his old friend would feel knowing that he had a part in ruining his daughter, even if he was entirely innocent in the matter.

“Won’t Aunt Primrose give you away?”

“She is a sweet soul but a touch forgetful,” she said, shrugging. “It will not help him to ask her about my visit.”

The exasperating Miss Harrington had an answer for every argument.

“I do not need your help,” he said finally. “I have several men, loyal men, who are right now looking for Anne. You will only slow me down. Besides, what experience as an investigator do you have? What skills do you possess that will aid my hunt?”

She swallowed. “Er, none.” A quick flash of panic crossed her face. The impulsive girl had clearly not thought this through. In her desire to thwart her father, she’d acted rashly—twice, if he counted the coach encounter. Perhaps her father was right. She needed a firm hand.

It would not be his.

He shook his head. “I think I shall take my chances with a note. You have nothing to offer that would make me willing to shackle us together for eternity.”

For a long moment, she stood there, uncertain, and he was sure he could hear cogs turning in her brain.

“Nothing I can say or do will change your mind?” she asked softly.

“Nothing,” he replied, confident of his win.

Then to his surprise, a slow smile crossed her perfect mouth, drawing him in and leaving him unable to turn away. He wasn’t certain of her intentions until she crossed the space between them, hips swaying, eyes alight with mischief.

When she pressed her lush body against him and circled her arm around his neck, the soft scent of lilies and some other such flower teased his senses. He found that he did not even mind the hint of horse on her skin.

He was frozen in place. All he could think about was her hand tangled in his too long hair and the feel of her breasts teasing his chest—well, that and the slight parting of her perfect lips.

“Nothing?” she asked him again, in a breathless whisper, as she pulled his mouth down to hers.

Chapter Five

S
candalous, outrageous, delicious—Brenna slipped through every one of those emotions and more as she kissed the viscount’s hard mouth, the length of her body draped against his. Though her previous chaste kisses had been with men who would be considered agreeable and charming, this man was anything but. He was hard and dangerous and completely unpleasant. Yet he made her body tingle all the way down to her toes.

She felt the moment when tension left him and he gave in to the kiss. And give in he did. One hand slid to her back, and the other weaved into her hair. Whatever control she thought she had changed the instant he deepened the chaste kiss by slanting his mouth over hers and showing her what it meant to kiss a man who was an expert in the matter.

His tongue dipped between her parted lips and sent a wave of both shock and heat through her senses.

Her throaty gasp was squelched by his mouth as his hand moved from back to buttock, pushing her against a hard ridge in his breeches, which she knew, from her brief time at the courtesan school, was an erection.

Her face burned with the knowledge.

Brenna felt the room tilt as he backed her up against the wall and trapped her in his embrace. The kiss was hot and his
body overwhelming, as she finally gave up all thoughts of the scandalous placement of his hand and her body’s innocent yet overwhelming reaction to his warmth. She succumbed to the kiss.

No boyish kiss was this. He tasted of ale and seduction. She whimpered low in her throat, wrapping her arms around his neck, seeking something…more.

Then just as quickly as the kiss began, she was freed. He stepped backward, his face hard, leaving her feverish flesh to the chill of the room.

“Tempting a man can have dire consequences, Milady. I could have easily taken the innocence you just offered so willingly.” He turned and reclaimed the tankard, dismissing her.

Brenna stood there, held up by the wall, not knowing if she should claw out his eyes or throw a chair at him. The man was impossible—completely impossible!

Instead of launching an attack, she seethed.

“I was not offering you my innocence,” she ground out.

She’d kissed him to show there was more to her than what he saw—an uncaring and spoiled noblewoman who would do anything to get her way. And she
was
spoiled, she knew. Her parents indulged her, the servants were there to fulfill her every whim, and she was used to getting her way. She wanted him to see her as a woman beneath her noble shell.

“Truly?” he said, clearly not believing a word she’d uttered. “I am certain I felt the invitation when you pressed your breasts against me.”

“Oh, you are a horrible man!”

He smiled wryly. “So I’ve been told.”

Brenna knew she was outmanned. She’d thought her chaste little kiss would entice him to beg to marry her. What a fool she’d been! She’d thoroughly misjudged him. This man was different, and her father was right. She knew nothing of the world outside her perfect existence. In that moment, with the feel of his hand still lingering on her bottom, Lady Brenna Harrington lost part of her innocence.

Accepting a momentary defeat, she pushed off the wall. He’d won a point, but she was not about to return to London without him. There was too much at stake.

If she’d learned anything from her brief time at the school,
it was that women had more power than men suspected. They held the key to drive men to war, to take them to their knees. That key was seduction. She would use it now, driven by instinct, to make him want her, to marry her.

“You enjoyed the kiss,” she said boldly. She shoved aside her anger and pretended experience she did not have. She had to make him mad for her or her plan would fail. “I felt your interest.”

His body stiffened.

“You think of me as Walter’s daughter and therefore untouchable.” She walked to the bed and ran her fingertips over the coverlet. “At this moment, your body is warring with your sense of honor. You want me; I know you do.”

BOOK: A Convenient Bride
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